Heedlessness has a history in the United States, one that has seen it migrate across social lines. Back in the 1920s rich writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald used to write novels about the heedless rich. They went on their heedless way, these rich WASPs like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, wrecking the lives of poorer folk like auto mechanic Mr. Wilson and his wife Myrtle, who had no margin at all for personal heedlessness.
Nothing ever touched them. Someone else always took the fall, perhaps the too-eager, too-Jewish Jay Gatsby, né Gatz. It was their money, their old money,that freed the WASPs from accountability.
The WASPs, for their sins, had the misfortune of having their heedlessness memorialized in bestselling novels, dozens of them. Today, of course, things are very different. Few WASPs would think of heedlessness today, not for a moment. Your old-stock New England WASP has become careful and prudent. And your lower-class white Protestant church-goer is anxious to live a moral life.
But never fear. Today we have what we might call the "New Heedlessness." As the party of heedlessness, the Democrats have forgotten all the proud talk about the rational social science that would end poverty and injustice. Now they say: If you don't give us the money you don't care about kids.
Last week, two commentators discussed the New Heedlessness as they surveyed the political scene at the end of 2006. In Britain, the American columnist Janet Daley reviewed the Conservative Party's policy report "Breakdown Britain." It is a shocking rehearsal of the failures of New Labour's welfare state.
But Daley was not impressed. We know all this stuff, she complained.
Why do we need yet another report to tell us that the welfare state has multiplied social pathology out of mind?
In the United States, Rich Lowry was not impressed either. His problem was presidential candidate John Edwards and his policy proposals for growing the middle class. Wrote Lowry:
"Edwards' anti-poverty proposals aren't compelling because they fail to acknowledge a basic truth: It is impossible "to grow the middle class," as he puts it, without spreading middle-class values. Edwards famously talks of "two Americas.""
Indeed. One America is the one where women get married and then have babies and the other America is where they have just have babies. The big middle-class value that Edwards doesn't really seem to want to speak out loud is the tabooed "M-word that rhymes with carriage."
There is big trouble in the Other America because after a generation of heedlessness you get a lot of kids running around homeless-in spirit if not in fact. Many of these kids, as Janet Daley points out,
"lack what were once considered to be the basic provisions of family life: two parents, [and] a sense of belonging to a stable household (even if it was poor)."
These neglected children are kids like Michael Oher, who turned up recently in The New York Times in Michael Lewis's "Ballad of Big Mike." Of kids like Michael you can too often write:
"that Michael's father had been shot and killed and tossed off a bridge, that his mother was addicted to crack cocaine and that his life experience was so narrow that he might as well have spent his first 16 years inside a closet... Big Mike, as he was called, was essentially homeless and so had made an art of sleeping on whatever floor the ghetto would provide for him. "
Yes, read the whole thing. It's a compelling story, and for you sophisticated ironists there is even irony in it. African American Michael Oher is doing fine now as a stand out left offensive tackle at Ole Miss thanks to a bunch of rich white conservative football fans of a school in the Old South.
But why should we continue spending five percent of GDP every year on government schooling and $200 billion a year on welfare when a nice kid like Michael Oher completely falls through the safety net? What combination of personal and institutional heedlessness does it take to produce a 16-year-old like Michael Oher, utterly unschooled and utterly unsocialized? How many more are there like him? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?
It would be interesting to apply the "Enron Test" to the case of Michael Oher and the other victims of the welfare state. Suppose that Michael Oher had been neglected not by his mother, the local government child services bureaucracy, and the local school bureaucracy but by the late Ken Lay and the evil Enron corporation. What would our Democratic friends say then?
For the heedless bureaucrats of the welfare state it's not the money. It's power that frees them from accountability.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker, and blogs here. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.